Emory hosts Tara Westover, best-selling author of 'Educated,' in lead-off event for Common Read

By Leigh DeLozier | Emory Report | Sept. 18, 2019

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New York Times best-selling author Tara Westover will visit Emory’s Atlanta campus on Thursday, Sept. 26, to discuss themes from her memoir, “Educated,” as part of the university’s Common Read “One Book, One Emory” program.

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New York Times best-selling author Tara Westover will visit Emory’s Atlanta campus on Thursday, Sept. 26, to discuss themes from her memoir, “Educated.” The event will be at 6:30 p.m. in the Emory Student Center and is being held in conjunction with Emory’s Common Read program.

“‘Educated’ generates the types of conversations we want to have on campus,” says Pamela Scully, vice provost for undergraduate affairs. “It raises profound questions about the meaning of an education, the experience of being a first-generation student, the legacies of racism, trauma and family violence, and the struggle to find one’s authentic self through education.”

Common Read is an initiative to help build community among incoming students, both first- years at the Atlanta and Oxford campuses as well as first-year PhD students. The undergirding concept is that reading the same book helps create opportunities for intellectual engagement and community building. A committee of faculty, students and staff selects a book they believe will be interesting and help stimulate conversations.

“Our job is to help engage students intellectually and in conversation with one another and others at Emory from their first weeks on campus,” Scully says. “The ‘One Book, One Emory’ Common Read is one tool that helps us do that. It allows us to open up conversations about what it means to be a student at Emory.”

“Educated” tells the story of Westover, who was born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho. Her parents did not believe in public education and did not trust medical providers or the government. Westover and her siblings spent their days stockpiling supplies to prepare for the end of the world, salvaging metal in their father’s junkyard and helping stew herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer.

The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Westover’s older brothers became violent, nor to help address her father’s mental illness. 

As a way out, Westover began to educate herself, learning enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University. She first stepped into a classroom at the age of 17, when she enrolled in classes at BYU. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her to Cambridge and to Harvard.

“The book selected for Common Read is one that’s relevant to the theme of uniting students and faculty,” says Abby Beaird, a sophomore majoring in interdisciplinary studies, who is part of Emory’s Common Read Committee. “It brings us together as one community who can discuss difficult issues such as race, gender and inequality inside and outside of the classroom.”

Conversations and community 

In “Educated,” Emory’s selection committee found a wealth of topics to generate conversations: mental health, first-generation college students, domestic violence, the power of education, interacting with people who hold different values and more.

As such, the Sept. 26 event will be the cornerstone for activities related to “Educated” throughout the academic year. 

“We have traditionally brought the author of our Common Read book on site, but we wanted to do more than that this year,” Scully says. “We wanted to embed the themes of ‘Educated’ in programs we already have on campus. We asked individuals and groups across campus for their input on opportunities to connect the book with what students are doing or are experiencing.” 

Highlights of connected activities include:

  • Some professors assigning the book to their classes.
  • Residence hall story circles, with RAs introducing a discussion prompt and inviting students to share their thoughts or personal experiences. After everyone has shared, the group discusses common themes that surfaced. For example, a prompt related to “Educated” could be “Tell a story about a time when you were educated in an unexpected way or outside of traditional schooling.”
  • An exhibition at the Woodruff Library that promotes the Common Read program and connects the topics of “Educated” to Emory library resources and subject librarians.
  • The Campus Life book club is reading “Educated.”
  • Professors teaching first-year seminars are encouraged to take their students out to lunch at the Dobbs Common Table to discuss the book and/or the meaning of education more broadly.
  • The Sept. 26 event counts as a Jones Program in Ethics (JPE) credit for PhD students.
  • Emory Teach-Out, a free virtual forum inspired by the “teach-ins” of the 1960s, will take place later in the academic year. Attendees come together in person or virtually to discuss a specific issue. Teach-Outs are open to the world and are designed to bring together individuals with wide-ranging perspectives for respectful and deep conversation.
  • Anthony Jack, author of “The Privileged Poor,” will come to Emory for two days during the spring semester to further the conversation about the experiences of first-generation and underserved students.

The engagement gained through Common Read and its associated activities is integral to One Emory, the university’s strategic framework. 

“Bringing our students from Oxford together with students on the Atlanta campus both through reading the same book and attending the September event, the engagement with our PhD students, and ongoing discussions about the meaning of education all helps us become ever more One Emory,” Scully says.

The event with Westover on Sept. 26  is free and open to the Emory community, but registration is required and tickets must be shown for entry. A limited number of community tickets will be for sale. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.